Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
In the case of Silence! The Musical, the point of view is an affectionate parody spoofing the original material, especially the film version. Minneapolis Musical Theatre is the ideal company to mount this show, with their track record of such bringing such dark and campy titles as Bat Boy: The Musical, Carrie and Eating Raoul. Hunter Bell's snarky book streamlines the story but all the main plot points are there. The score by brothers Jon and Al Kaplan is a send-up of Broadway musical styles. None of them are particularly memorable, but they are a hoot to listen too.
Clarice Starling is the heroine of the piece, a newly minted FBI agent whose prim and tightly controlled demeanor are used by FBI psychologist Jack Crawford to draw information from a serial killer behind bars, the notorious Dr. Hannibal (the Cannibal) Lector, to capture another serial killer, known as Buffalo Bill. Lector was a brilliant forensic psychiatrist, a master at mind manipulation who reveals clues to Buffalo Bill's identity to Clarice in exchange for her revealing personal truths about herself, one of which is the basis of the work's title.
The head of the asylum in which Lector is imprisoned, Dr. Frederick Chilton, devises his own scheme for using Lector's clues to make an end-run on solving the case, to career-advancing ends. While this plays out, Buffalo Bill's latest victim turns out to be Catherine, the daughter of U. S. Senator Ruth Martin. Senator Martin's public appeal for Buffalo Bill's capture and her daughter's safe return put this manhunt at the top of the national news. Chilton and Clarice, following different information and instincts, both heatedly pursue Buffalo Bill, knowing that it is only a matter of days before he will murder Catherine.
The entire story is grisly, nail-biting stuff, but Bell and the brothers Kaplan have made it into eye-winking good fun, making sport with the genre as well as with well-known scenes from the movie. Steve Meerdink directs the show with the appropriate spirit of lunacy, while having respect the creator's work. An ensemble of Lambs, adorably dressed in director Steve Meerdink's clever costume costumes (all black with white fluffy muffs) perform the mood-setting opening number and provide back up for other songs most hilariously, in the Fosse-inspired "It's Agent Starling," vamping behind a top-hatted Clarice.
This is greatly enhanced by the broad, committed performances by Emily Jabas as Clarice and Tim Kuehl as Lector. Jabas mimics Jodi Foster's performance, with tightly controlled nerves, pushing herself to be brave in a terrifying situation, along with her prim hairstyle and tortured West Virginia accent. Kuehl takes on Anthony Hopkins' indelible performance as Lector, a master class in creepiness. Both Jabas and Kuehl excel mining these characters for comedy gold.
The entire cast pitches in to add to the fun. Ryan London Levin is Buffalo Bill, animating the ridiculousness within his evil-doing. Marlin Rothe plays the paternal Dr. Crawford, as well as Clarice's father (in flashbacks), with corn-pone sincerity. Amanda Weiss is hilarious as both Senator Martin and her abducted daughter Catherine, especially scoring with "My Daughter Is Catherine" as goofy Jordan Oxborough pokes barbed fun at the misguided ambition of Dr. Chilton. Gregory Adam, Daniel Lundin, Alice McGlave, and Jodi Tripp complete the cast, all making evil and ulterior intentions look like a romp.
There is a bit of low-stress choreography to add flash to some of the numbers, more posturing than actual dancing, which is of a piece with the rest of the work. The set is low budget, but makes ingenious use of props to establish the many locations needed for the story. The well in which the senator's daughter is held captive is particularly well conceived, as is an FBI helicopter flight. Sound and light effects add gloriously to the cheesy fun, and music director Matthew Bear makes the four-piece band sound like a larger ensemble.
Is this a great show? No, not even close. Is it a fun time? Absolutely, as long as you have a taste, or at least a tolerance, for macabre and gruesome stories. And let's be honest, we can think of some great shows that, for all their sober and meaningful narrative, are not exactly fun. Sometimes we seek out greatness, sometimes we are more than delighted for a barrel of fun. When that time rolls along, Silence! The Musical is just the ticket.
Silence! The Musical is a co-production of Minneapolis Musical Theatre and Bitter Boy Productions, playing at The Lab Theater, 700 1st Street North, Minneapolis. It continues through March 6, 2016. Tickets: $30 general admission, $40.00 VIP (stage-side table seating, complimentary drink), $20.00 for groups of 10+. For tickets call 612-333-7977 or go to www.thelabtheater.org. For information on Minneapolis Musical Theatre go to www.aboutmmt.org.
Book: Hunter Bell; Music & Lyrics: Jon and Al Kaplan; Director and Costume Design: Steve Meerdink; Original Off-Broadway Direction and Choreography: Christopher Gattelli; Music Director: Matthew Bear; Set Silence! The Musical Designer: Darren Hensel; Lighting Designer: Adam Raine; Sound Designer: Allen Weeks; Prop Design: Valerie Larche; Stage Manager: Joyce Norman.
Cast: Gregory Adam (Boyle, Lamb), Emily Jabas (Clarice Starling), Tim Kuehl (Hannibal Lecter, Lamb), Ryan London Levin (Buffalo Bill, Lamb), Daniel Lundin (Miggs, Pembry, Lamb), Alice McGlave (Ardelia, Lamb), Jordon Oxborough (Dr. Chilton, Lamb), Marlin Rothe (Crawford, Papa Starling, Lamb), Jodi Tripp (Barney, Lamb), Amanda Weis (Catherine, Senator Martin, Lamb).